Google Gobbles Up Zagat

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Google has announced that it’s acquiring Zagat Survey, the dining guide known for its 30-point rating scale and snippets of quotes from restaurant customers.

“Moving forward, Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering—delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world,” Google’s Marissa Mayer wrote on the official Google blog.

For years, Google built up its local business database by scraping information from competitors such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, whether they liked it or not. But lately, Google’s been trying to gather its own information with Google Places, and in July the company removed all third-party reviews from its local Place pages. (However, Google still scrapes Yelp content in its Google Places iPhone app, TechCrunch has reported.)

(MORE: Google Places: Google’s Own Local Recommendation App)

Acquiring Zagat amounts to a shortcut for Google on the dining front. The search giant can now draw on Zagat’s reviews, details, hours of operation and must-eat menu items to keep its Place pages up-to-date in more than 100 cities. The acquisition may also alleviate some of the difficulties Google has run into with user-generated content, such as mean-spirited businesses reporting their competitors as permanently closed.

Unanswered in Google’s announcement, however, is what will become of the Zagat guide in its current form. Right now, users pay $25 per year for access to Zagat’s ratings. But I can’t imagine that Google will keep this information locked behind a pay wall, and if Zagat ratings are available for free through Google searches, I can’t imagine many people wanting to pay a membership fee to see them. My guess is Google will keep offering paid Zagat memberships, but will ultimately let the program languish as the information migrates to Google’s own search services.

Founders Nina and Tim Zagat said they will “remain active in the business as co-Chairs, helping to ensure that the combination of Zagat’s and Google’s assets and capabilities will maximize our product quality and growth.”

LIST: 10 Great iPhone Apps for Foodies